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JAMCO Online International Symposium

23rd JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 2015 - October2015

Audience Perception of Japanese TV Programs in Asia and the Middle East.


Natalia Ilieva
Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union

Some events leave a permanent mark on our lives and our entire way of thinking.
Four such events in my journalistic career at the BBC World Service are still vivid in my mind – the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the 2005 London terrorist attacks.

They all happened while I was on shift Bush House (home of the World Service, 1941-2012), and had to work hard on checking and verifying facts and digging for new information. I remember as if it were yesterday the frantic efforts of everyone in the News Room trying to contact the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii for more details to flesh out the sketchy reports coming from the tourist resort off the coast of Thailand – Phuket.

Until then, the island was known as a favorite destination for the winter birds from Europe. But that changed for ever on Boxing Day in 2004, as Phuket became permanently linked with the devastating tsunami, that at a stroke transformed the world and its perception of natural disasters, and how to prepare for them.

Little I did know at this point that actually Aceh in Indonesia was the hardest hit, rather than Phuket, but as in many other cases, news coverage tended to focus on where the reporters, or as with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, where the affluent western tourists were. A journalist must do one’s best to provide information, particularly to anguishing relatives. Conveying as much reliable information as we possibly can is of paramount importance during a disaster, and it can often mean the difference between life and death.

I never imagined then that dealing with disasters and preparing journalists to inform their audiences would become a vitally important part of my professional life, nor that I would experience another such event after moving to Malaysia to work for the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union in September 2010.

On March 11 2011, during an ABU workshop on Early Warning Broadcasting Systems conducted by NHK colleagues in Malaysia, shocking news arrived of a magnitude 9 earthquake, and a devastating tsunami that took 18,475 lives (dead and missing) in the most disaster prepared nation in the world.

By this time I was already closely involved with the ABU project financed by UNESCAP – the Early Warning Broadcast Media Initiative. This shocking event further galvanized my personal and my organization’s commitment to prepare people in the countries where we work for the calamities ahead.

The need in our member states for systematic and consistent efforts for disaster preparedness is massive. The Asia-Pacific region is the most affected in the world – with 80% of victims and 60% of the infrastructure damage suffered worldwide due to disasters. The future sounds alarming. Climate change will lead to unpredictable weather patterns and more intense natural hazards including typhoons, cyclones and floods.

In the last two years ABU’s efforts in early warnings and disaster preparedness have risen exponentially. Furthermore, the ABU is spearheading a global campaign to make media a trusted partner to governments when it comes to early warnings and disaster preparedness. The ABU outreach campaign Saving Lives: Preparing for Disasters, which strives to integrate media in national Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies and planning, has begun to bear fruit. ABU works in 10 countries to link together all stakeholders involved in emergency warnings and disaster preparedness – from government agencies and NGOs, to the communities themselves.

In this paper I would like to share the knowledge ABU has acquired in the last 3 years about the role of the media in building resilient communities, and the lessons learned through more than 30 workshops that we have implemented across Asia on Early Warnings and Communications for Disaster Risk Reduction.

ABU Media Campaign for Building Resilient Communities

The starting point for our work is that natural hazards such as tsunamis, floods, typhoons or storms should not necessarily be disastrous. They become disasters only when they hit vulnerable communities – communities that are not well prepared to withstand nature’s wrath.

A violent storm in the middle of a desert is not a disaster, but the same storm could mean complete annihilation for a fishing village that is not prepared.

Surviving a sudden disaster is either a matter of luck, or very good planning and preparation. Luck is pure chance: being at the right place at the right time.

Planning requires detailed preparation and superb coordination at national, regional, and community levels of all stakeholders involved in the process of issuing early warnings – between Meteorological Offices, Disaster Management Authorities, NGOs, communities, and the media. Improving the coordination between these stakeholders and integrating media has been at the heart of the ABU’s work on saving lives in the last few years.

Then, there is the lottery of the country one is born in. The chances of surviving earthquakes, tsunamis, or typhoons are much, much, higher in Japan, compared to the Philippines or Bangladesh. Japanese disaster preparedness is the gold standard, not only in this region but in the whole world The Japan Meteorological Authority and the ABU founding member NHK have developed the fastest and most reliable flow of communications before, during and after disasters. Over and over again, this trusted and continuously perfected system saves many lives. It has been developed over the last four decades and it has put media at the heart of the chain of communications.

This includes ALL media, both public service and commercial. National disasters are national emergencies during which everybody must play a part. Since disasters are always national emergencies, it is therefore essential that all public media and commercial and private media are given and fulfill their roles. As broadcasters, we cannot afford anything less.

When disaster strikes, the stakeholders involved in dealing with its effects and aftermath invariably turn to the media to disseminate messages, information and advice. It is important that media outlets should be involved from the initial stages of the planning process for disaster preparedness.

If the media can establish a relationship of trust with their audiences, when disasters are about to occur, people will turn to that medium (particularly radio) for guidance. Whilst national radios or broadcast stations provide an overall guide to situations and offer information to international outlets, it is even more vital that local broadcasters can warn, inform and advise their listeners…. before, during and following a disaster. What is required, therefore, is a standard operational procedure that links national and local broadcasters, and offers a template that assigns responsibilities and roles which ensure a comprehensive approach in dealing with the populations of high risk areas.

This is obviously a natural role for the media who are the interface between the authorities for disaster warning and management, and the people threatened by disasters. The media is the common denominator between all stakeholders involved in disaster preparedness, and in this sense, it must be the key partner and part of the solution to save lives by preparing people for a potential disaster.

The ABU has developed a proactive model for the role of media in DRR and building resilient and safe societies.

When we talk about the role of media in DRR, we also need to look at four very distinctive phases in which the media utilizes its network to warn people of the impending danger.

Phase I. Shortly before the disaster the objective is to reduce damage. The media issues:

1. Broadcast warnings and immediate issue of EEW and EWBS signals, if facilities are installed.

2. Calls for quick evacuation.

3. Instructions on where to go and what to do.

4. Regular, accurate, and comprehensible updates in appropriate tone about the development of the danger.

Phase II. During and immediately after the disaster. Aims to support search and rescue operations. Media reports focus on:

1. Lifeline broadcasting on traffic, communications, water, gas, electricity, medical treatment etc.

2. Report where and how severe the damage is (focus on key infrastructure – evacuation centers, roads, airports, ports, nuclear plants, fires etc.)

3. Issuing well-being information – information about separated families, names of survivors. Prepare the well-being information and put on data broadcasting and internet systems.

Phase III. After the disaster. Aims to support emergency relief and early recovery. Media must:

1. Provide necessary information for the victims.

2.Provide long-term support for the recovery of the society.

Phase IV. The quiet time – the time between disasters. Media focus on:

1. Supporting medium to long-term recovery,
2. Community development
3. Checking on government actions for DRR
4. Building resilient communities

Phase IV is probably the most important for effective emergency warnings. However, it is often the most neglected. By nature, the media tend to be reactive, rather than proactive, avidly following unfolding events, while interest wanes away quickly in the aftermath. Phase IV is the key for building a proactive media and this is one of the most important focuses of the ABU in DRR.

There are two parallel processes in Phase IV.

A. Preparing the broadcast station for disasters.


B. Preparing the public for disasters.

A. Prepare the broadcast station for disasters.

National and local broadcast stations should be made aware of their responsibilities in preparing for disasters, how they can be effective as natural phenomena strike and how to be a focal point of information after the event when other means of communication are affected. The broadcasters should undertake systematic efforts to make their station ready for when disaster strikes. This includes:

1. Organisational preparations:

   - The station should develop Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) in the form of Emergency Broadcast Plans, which specify what actions should be taken and by whom. All staff should be familiar with the SOP and regular drills should be conducted to test the SOPs and to adapt them to new developments. In the case of Newsrooms, which are on the frontline of information delivery for disasters, it is of great importance to have all staff trained on how to react and save valuable time in passing information. That is matter of life and death.
   Many of the ABU broadcast members do not have formal Emergency Broadcast Plans and act on the spur of the moment in disaster situations. Even where there are SOPs, they are often too complicated and staff were not even aware of their existence, and drills had never been conducted.
ABU is helping several stations to develop Emergency Broadcast Plans for different hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and floods. They are based on the best practices among members such as the NHK for earthquakes and tsunamis, and Radio Television Hong Kong for typhoons. However, there is a long way to go to prepare all stations for future disasters.

   - The broadcast stations should organise emergency response units of respected and experienced journalists who will take over the live broadcast required in a disaster. It is crucial that people who deliver the information have been properly trained on how to gather, verify and disseminate lifesaving information in an appropriate tone, so there will be no panic, but people will respond to the warnings. It is also vitally important that these presenters have the trust and respect of the audiences.
   There are plenty of examples where in many stations across Asia, crucial time is wasted while journalists in the Newsroom try to confirm with their bosses whether or not to issue emergency warnings. This weakness has to be addressed by adopting SOPs and creating emergency response units of seasoned journalists able to work confidently under pressure.

   - Organise rapid deployment units to be sent to the disaster areas and provide them with adequate equipment – portable cameras, helicopters etc. This is very much needed in order for the broadcast stations to facilitate the smooth flow of information during the search and rescue efforts. The NHK, Japan is a leader in this field and a shining example for public service broadcasters during disasters. It is not only ready within minutes to send helicopter crews but also is constantly developing and perfecting technical devices to capture the disasters. CCTV, China is also working in this direction. Special TV crews are ready to be dispatched within 2 hours of any news of disaster. Radio TV Malaysia is also working on assembling a rapid reaction unit for covering any disasters.

2. Technical preparations. It is crucial to guarantee the smooth operation of the broadcast station during disasters. Efforts should be focused on:

   - Take all possible actions to make the station disaster resilient. That includes building structures and technical equipment back up, such as back up power generators and back up broadcast facilities like Radio-in-a-Box.

   - Maintaining the transmission equipment in the broadcasting center.
If the main broadcasting facilities are destroyed, the broadcasting function should be moved to another back-up broadcasting stations.

   - Maintaining the contribution network and distribution network.
The contribution network gathers material from the outside that is fed to the broadcasting station, eg., OB (Outside Broadcasting, terrestrial),SNG (Satellite News Gathering, satellite), IP network, remote controlled cameras, helicopters.

The distribution network delivers the broadcaster’s programmes to transmitters and homes, eg., TTL (Transmitter to Transmitter Link), STL (Studio to Transmitter Link), Optical fibers, and transmitting facilities including back-up electric generators and Emergency Warning.

3. Staff Training is the action that can make a difference between effective and ineffective emergency warnings. It requires:

   - Developing Training Programmes for all staff on the Emergency Broadcast Plan (SOPs) of the station. Every single member of the staff must be familiar with these SOPs, which should be part of the induction programmes for newly recruited employees. Such Training Programmes should be updated with any changes of the SOPs due to new developments in communications with emergency warning authorities, disaster management authorities and changes in the equipment for communications.
   -Regular drills of all staff on the Emergency Broadcast Plan (SOPs) of the station. No plan, even the most perfect one, will work if the broadcaster employees are not well versed in their roles during disaster situations. In this respect the nightly earthquake drills conducted by the NHK, are another shining example of taking broadcaster’s responsibilities during emergencies to a higher level.

4. Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction in all content.

The statement “media play a vital role during disasters” is much used. Unfortunately, the “role of media during disasters” is often too late to save lives. The disaster has already happened and the media outlets are merely reacting to tragic situations.

In high risk areas, the media, particularly Radio and TV, should be generating and developing a proactive role during so-called “quiet” times. Producers and editors should be actively creating informative and preventative programming that will engage and educate their audiences.

In order to achieve such proactive DRR approaches, media practitioners should ready themselves to report on disasters and disasters preparedness, and produce programmes on disaster preparedness that are both educational and entertaining, and reach all groups of society with quality programming.
Unfortunately, media practitioners in the Asia-Pacific region are often underprepared for this role of proactive media interventions for disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. ABU has identified several steps to rectify this situation and to institutionalize proactive disaster preparedness approaches in broadcast organisations.

For the Emergency Warnings these steps are:

  1. Training Newsrooms across the Asia-Pacific in emergency warnings and disaster coverage. Many organisations currently lack these skills, which is tragic as we are expecting more frequent and intense calamities in the future. Newsrooms should be trained on the key elements emergency messages need to contain and the appropriate wording and tone to use in delivering such messages.
  2. Helping Newsrooms and Disaster Warning Centers such as Meteorological Offices and National Disaster Management Authorities to establish regular communications. The Newsrooms must embrace a culture of verifying emergency warnings and constantly update their network of contacts in the above authorities.
  3. Liaising between broadcasters and Disaster Warning Centers to “negotiate” a common language for the warning messages, a language that is both scientifically correct and also understandable to the general public. All too often the messages delivered by the Disaster Warning Centers are full of figures and scientific jargon which ordinary citizens do not fully comprehend. Many victims of Typhoon Hayian (2013) in Tacloban, The Philippines, knew about the approaching danger but failed to evacuate, because they did not understand that a “storm surge” meant that a huge wave caused by the typhoon would sweep far inland. Many citizens of Tacloban later said that they would have evacuated if the warning had been for a tsunami. ABU is helping several countries to “negotiate” such common language which provides comprehensible information about the potential real impact of the disaster, instead of simply reciting statistics.
  4. Training Newsroom Editors and Reporters on the regional and national warning systems for different coastal and other natural hazards. This is crucially important for the assessment and interpretation of the warnings coming from different sources. Newsroom staff should know who are the stakeholders, and how decisions are made in cases of emergencies.

For Climate Change Preparedness the actions are:

  1. Comprehensive capacity building programmes on climate change and adaptation to its harmful effects. Climate change is a complex issue which requires the journalists to study it thoroughly in order to “translate” it into quality, accurate and audience-relevant programmes. This should be a priority for many organisations and the international community should support such efforts.
  2. Create a team of specialised editors and reporters able to identify international and national issues in climate change adaptations and disaster risk reduction, crucial to the lives and livelihoods of their audiences. Surprisingly, most of the ABU members in developing countries do not have environmental reporters. It is of paramount importance that they train and appoint such specialised journalists.
  3. Create space for climate change issues coverage, generating discussion on its impacts and preparing wide audiences to withstand future disasters. This gap is linked to lack of awareness among the broadcasters’ top management on the importance of regular programmes on climate change, the environment and disaster preparedness.

    Fortunately, change is in the air. The Thailand public service broadcaster, Thai PBS, introduced a regular weekly programme on Saturday afternoons, which deals with such issues. It has become a very popular and valuable service for this disaster prone nation. ABU is helping Maldives Broadcasting Corporation and Pakistan Television Corporation to establish such units as a long-term strategy to involve the stakeholders in educating the public on disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation.
  4. ABU is compiling a bank of relevant programmes to be offered copyright free to ABU members. A wealth of material is available globally to highlight problems and methods of mitigation and preparedness for disasters. ABU is communicating with relevant UN agencies to acquire such programmes.

B. Prepare the wide public for disasters.

As the interface between the public and Disaster Warning Centers like Meteorological Offices and National Disaster Management Authorities, the media’s responsibility goes far beyond that of a mere messenger conveying the government agencies’ warnings. The media must work hard to educate and prepare their audiences on how to withstand danger, and how to make DRR part of their own, as well as their communities’ lives. This could be done through creative programmes for all target viewers/listeners segments- such as children, youth, women, the elderly and from many angles.

  1. Preparing the public: how to respond to emergency warnings. Even the most accurate and timely issued warning would fail to save lives if people do not know how to respond. If the authorities say that there is a red alert for an approaching typhoon, and people do not know in advance that they should immediately evacuate to safe high ground, the message is a failure. Pre-disaster warnings, escape routes, action plans, survival methods and all inclusive social reaction schemes can be made into entertaining but crucial productions that can appeal to young audiences and older, more discerning consumers alike. Such information could be encoded in dramas and entertainment programmes, and mainstreamed in all programming of the broadcaster.

  2. Educating broad audiences on climate change impacts and adaptations.

    As mentioned, proactive approaches require media outlets to establish specific units – in the same way that an economic, political or business unit is established – with a dedicated correspondent or small team of people working on environmental issues and climate change adaptation, including disaster risk reduction and emergency warning procedures within their remit.
    But broadcasters can do far more by mainstreaming disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction across all programming – news, current affairs, documentaries, dramas and entertainment

Of course, preparing broadcast organizations and the public for future disasters require substantial resources which are not easily allocated in many developing countries. However, whilst having a substantial budget to invest in training and programme content is a great advantage, the most important aspect in becoming proactive is attitude. Broadcasters themselves need to be educated in ways and means of connecting with their audiences, and governments and NGOs need to understand how cooperation will lead to greater efficiencies, and ultimately saves lives. Above all, governments should understand that training journalists to educate their audience on DRR is an investment in national security and has to be given budget priority.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in its last report in 2014 that the climate change is a fact and it will influence food and water security, which will inevitably jeopardize social and economic development of all countries. Climate change adaptation and mitigation are the issues that will dominate the world’s political, economic and social agendas for the next 50 years. An effective collective response to this global threat will be crucial for the survival and development of humankind.

The leading UN agencies are already drawing up plans for a global response to the climate change challenge. Immediately after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (ISDR) launched the Hyogo Framework for Action on DRR. This is a 10-year plan for building resilient economies and communities across the globe. More than 160 governments are participants, and have pledged to mainstream DRR in all their policies. In order to achieve these goals, governments are working with civil societies and have established 10 stakeholders groups – such as Science, Private Partnership, Local Government, Parliamentarians, Disability, and Women. Media is the newest, joining in 2012. ABU is leading the Media stakeholder group and presented the Media Statement of Commitment to the 6th Asian Conference on DRR in Bangkok in June 2014.

ABU is also lobbying other Broadcasting Unions such as EBU, ASBU and AUB, to announce a joint Media Declaration at the 3rd UN Conference on DRR in March 2015 in Sendai, Japan. The conference will launch the second phase of the Hyogo Framework for Action on DRR.
As the common denominator for all stakeholders in disaster management and DRR processes and policies, media should be on the frontline of battling climate change. The media are the most efficient and cost-effective means to transform and influence behaviors and policies, and must play a leading role in shaping the minds of decision makers and ordinary people alike, on how to prepare their nations and communities for challenges caused by climate change.

I wish to end this paper by recalling one of the greatest biblical stories in the Old Testament. It is the story of Noah building a boat, the Ark, in order to save humanity and the animal kingdom from the flood engulfing the Earth.

Today, in the 21st Century, it is our duty to reinvent and rebuild the Ark as the Ark of knowledge, and also to save the lives of families – the family of nations which is increasingly vulnerable to nature’s wrath. We will need new thinking, and new creative approaches. For the future shaped by climate change will be completely different from the past, and the solutions we already possess will not help humanity to survive and prosper. And we, the media, are responsible for stepping forward to begin to build the Ark of knowledge.

Natalia Ilieva

Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union

BSc, Sofia University, Economics, Bulgaria
Joint MBA degree from Ottawa University, Canada, and University of Kent, UK.
Before joining the ABU, Natalia has a journalistic career spanning more than 20 years of experience in print, radio and TV media, working for public service broadcasters including 10 years for the BBC, commercial operators and the “third sector” – NGOs and charity organizations in Europe, North America and Asia. Currently, she is heading the strategic development and members and external relationships and marketing in the ABU.

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